Gunfight in Trinidad, Colorado
Trinidad, Colorado Saloon, 1880’s
Like many old west towns of the 1880’s Trinidad, Colorado has a rich, colorful history. Scouts, trappers and traders frequently drifted through the town. So did gamblers and outlaws who came to patronize the many saloons and gambling joints on Main Street.
Law in these towns, during this era, was many times virtually nonexistent. Trinidad was no different…until Bat Masterson and his brother James, took on the job as marshals in the spring of 1881.
Trinidad had several legendary characters that spent time in this historical town…Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid to name a few. The town had its’ share of gunfights as well. Some of the gun battles were more famous than others. For example, there was a little known gunfight in 1882, involving John Allen and Frank Loving also known as “Cockeyed” Frank.
Frank had gained notoriety as a gunfighter following a shootout in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1879 with Levi Richardson a buffalo hunter, freighter and sometime gambler. That gunfight erupted as a result of Richardson having become enamored with Franks’ wife.
Frank, a professional gambler, had become a frequent customer at the famed Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City earlier where he crossed paths with such legends as Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp… and a fellow named John Allen.
Loving had moved on to Trinidad in early 1880 where he met up with old friends Masterson and Holliday from Dodge City. They often came into town while working with the Santa Fe Railroad during the Royal Gorge Rail War. Earp, at the time, was running a stage to Raton Pass. Frank had in the meantime taken up dealing faro in the Bank Exchange Saloon. Cashing in on his dubious reputation as a gunfighter, he would brag it was his slow deliberate draw that won the fight with Levi Richardson.
Enter John Allen, a gambling acquaintance, also from Dodge. Allen was employed at the popular Imperial Saloon, which Loving often frequented. Bad feelings between the two evolved over several months concerning some loan arrangements and card games.
The argument came to a head on April 15, 1882, on Trinidad’s Main Street when the two confronted each other and drew their revolvers. However, several friends broke up the quarrel, temporarily staving off the inevitable fight.
The following evening, Allen lay in wait for Loving at the saloon. When Frank arrived, Allen pulled his gun and fired. His first shot missed. Loving likewise drew his gun. However, his pistol was knocked out of his hand by patrons scrambling for cover. Allen, shielding himself behind another man, shot and missed again. Frank retrieved his weapon and fired at Allen who was beating a hasty retreat for the rear door. Loving followed him, firing as Allen fled.
Trinidad’s Deputy Marshal, James Masterson, heard the gunfire and went to investigate. Masterson found Frank in the alley behind the saloon and confiscated his gun. Deputy Masterson left to find Allen, who was seemingly nowhere to be found. He returned to the saloon and found Loving had somehow acquired two more revolvers. Again, Masterson disarmed him and continued searching for the elusive Allen.
Allen had been hiding out in the Catholic Convent of Sister Blandina, a short ways down the street. In the interim, Loving had left the saloon and gone to George Hammond’s hardware store for another gun and ammunition, unaware Allen was following him.
Masterson, still searching for Allen, heard a gunshot from the hardware store and hurried to the scene. Masterson found Frank stumbling by the door. Loving, who had been shot in the back looked up and said shakily, “Jim I’m shot.” Several other officers arrived and arrested Allen who was found cowering in rear of the store.
Loving was taken to the home of a local doctor, treated and made as comfortable as possible. The doctor determined the bullet could not be removed. Frank died five days later at 28 years old. The incident became known as the Trinidad Gunfight.
Allen went on trial for murder six months later in September, but was found not guilty. He returned to Dodge City. In an odd twist of fate he became a preacher and traveling evangelist.
Bat and James Masterson remained in Trinidad long enough for real law enforcement to take root. James later became sheriff in Gray County near Dodge while brother Bat became a New York sportswriter.